Distributive Leadership

Okay, this isn’t technology related, but I’d love some feedback on this, so it’s going out on the nptech tag. And, since this topic is right out of my job, note the disclaimer that my opinions do not represent the opinions of SF Goodwill in any official or unofficial capacity.

My company, Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, is deep into an organizational change process, and I’ve been given particular responsibility for facilitating the creation of a leadership development group (I am not the current group leader, but I was, and the CEO keeps looking right at me whenever the subject comes up…). This isn’t a generic thing – the idea is that there should be a diverse group of staff (different jobs, different levels of responsibility, ethnic/gender diversity) that rotate into strategic planning sessions with executive staff and, on occassion, board members and other organization strategists. My team’s task is to come up with the plan for how we recruit the members and what we do to prepare them to contribute healthfully at high-level meetings.

So, some background – our CEO has an immensely impressive background, having, at times, headed up an AIDS foundation; the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Families; the Omidyar Foundation (started it up with Pierre), and other things. She is a guru on corporate management and organizational change; a visionary; and a natural agent of change and imagination. Our staff, most of whom work in our retail thrift operation, are often hired out of our programs to assist the poor, homeless, and ex-offenders; many speak English as their second language; and are not likely to be well-versed in modern business rhetoric. None of this implies that there aren”t natural leaders and innovators among them – just that they aren’t likely to be prepped to participate at a lingo-driven, high-level business strategy session. So the trick I’m wrestling with is, how do you properly orient them to be able to participate with the executives?

There are really two big things we have to overcome:

  • The language barriers (both rthnic and rhetoric based)
  • and the confidence barriers, in it that some of these potential leaders have been with us for ten to thirty years, but nobody has ever asked them to participate in strategic thinking at the highest level, or given them any expectation that their opinions would be valued.

So we’ve identified some books; we are banking on mentoring as a strategy; we have access to some online training; and I think we have a strong recruitment plan about 90% worked out, one that combines open enrollment with a referal/evaluation process to insure that everyone is able to let us know they’re interested (the first evidence of leadership potential) with enough room for us to determine if they’re ready for it. A big concern is that we don’t want to set our staff up to fail.

So, say you were me: what tools (online, books, etc) would you use to help prep people to participate in rhetoric driven strategy sessions?

What exercizes/methods would be effective in helping them build their confidence to speak up in meetings with the highest level of management? We have already done a lot of thinking on this, and realize that it’s necessary to create a safe environment outside of the office, with an outside facilitator, but there must be some focused ways to teach people how to take that kind of risk. If we teach them all there is to know, but they still feel uncomfortable speaking up in the meetings, we haven’t accomplished our primary goal.

What do the execs and mentors need to know/be explicitly trainined in? I think it’s a two way street.

Thoughts?

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One thought on “Distributive Leadership

  1. marshallkirkpatrick

    Sorry to see that you don’t have any other comments here on this. It’s a huge question. For my two cents, I’d say that for some people it would work to put what you and they are doing in an explicitely political context. Tell them (appropriately)that you know that the world we live in is a fake meritocracy swimming in priviledge and oppresion – and ask them what you can do to help them overcome those obstacles to challenge the long running tradition of elite power silencing everyone else. In other words, participation not for the purpose of struggle, but as an act of struggle in and of itself. I imagine you can pick out after a little conversation (if possible) who this approach might work with. Just an idea, maybe it’s crazy or niave. Good luck.

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